The Government believe that the best way is through a proportionate, regulatory regime, focusing on advice, guidance, investigations and name and shame, backed by the threat of financial penalties in reserve. In such a way, the retailers will be encouraged to comply with the code. A punitive, adversarial culture, such as that which would be created by financial penalties, could also work—but much more slowly and at a much higher cost.
I ask noble Lords whether they would prefer that the adjudicator carries out four investigations a year, in each one identifying breaches of the code and correcting them, or that he or she carries out just one, imposes a financial penalty and then gets bogged down by a lengthy court battle as the retailers fight appeal after appeal? Make no mistake, if fines are needed, they will be brought in. The Government are very clear on this. The amendments I have tabled, which noble Lords will be discussing shortly, demonstrate our intent. By removing the double layer of consultation and by allowing the adjudicator to publish guidance on fining prior to being given the power to impose fines, we have ensured that fines can be brought in swiftly if necessary. However, we should first give the more moderate regime a chance.
One might expect the suppliers would push for the retailers to face the maximum penalty. That is their right. However, they have also acknowledged the need to be proportionate. I cite the briefing of the British Brands Group, which has said that fines are “not essential” and of the NFU, which has said that it will not be arguing for the Bill to be amended to allow fines from the outset, provided the Government’s amendments to streamline the process are accepted. If the suppliers are being so measured, should not the Government and Parliament also take a proportionate approach and decide on the most proportionate remedy that will be best for both the country and the economy as a whole?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, there we have it. The Minister started off by saying she was not lukewarm but then spoke with passion as to why the supermarkets should not be fined right now. That was lukewarm about fining supermarkets if ever I heard it. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, all of whom, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, supported fining in principle. I would urge the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and her party to vote with their principles rather than with the lame excuses that they have been given. I say to the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Newcastle that the Bill itself sets out how the powers to fine would be introduced, and it is perfectly clear that allowing the powers to fine from day one would not delay the passage of the Bill and the establishment of the adjudicator. However, if we do not pass this amendment, the adjudicator will begin without the powers that he wants and without the teeth that we need as the threat to make sure that people abide by this code. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Adams of Craigielea, B.
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Armstrong of Hill Top, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Browne of Belmont, L.
Browne of Ladyton, L.
Cameron of Dillington, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Collins of Highbury, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Davidson of Glen Clova, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Harries of Pentregarth, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Hayter of Kentish Town, B.
Healy of Primrose Hill, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Stretford, B.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Kennedy of Southwark, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kinnock of Holyhead, B.
Knight of Weymouth, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Liddell of Coatdyke, B.
Lister of Burtersett, B.
McConnell of Glenscorrodale, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McFall of Alcluith, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Morris of Yardley, B.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Patel of Bradford, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Reid of Cardowan, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Smith of Basildon, B.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Stevenson of Balmacara, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]
Turner of Camden, B.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
West of Spithead, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Wood of Anfield, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Hornsey, B.
Young of Norwood Green, L.
Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]
Ashton of Hyde, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Black of Brentwood, L.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
De Mauley, L.
Falkner of Margravine, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Garden of Frognal, B.
Gardiner of Kimble, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Heyhoe Flint, B.
Hill of Oareford, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Howard of Lympne, L.
Howard of Rising, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jay of Ewelme, L.
Jenkin of Kennington, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jones of Cheltenham, L.
Kerr of Kinlochard, L.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Newby, L. [Teller]
Norton of Louth, L.
Palmer of Childs Hill, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Shackleton of Belgravia, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stoneham of Droxford, L.
Stowell of Beeston, B.
Taylor of Goss Moor, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tyler of Enfield, B.
Vallance of Tummel, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Waldegrave of North Hill, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Wallace of Tankerness, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Younger of Leckie, V.
(a) prior to any information being published; or
(b) following the publication of any information.”
Lord Howard of Rising: Both this amendment and Amendment 14 deal with appeals. The Minister was gracious enough in Committee to say that she would look at this and she produced a forceful argument in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointing out the benefits of appealing to the High Court rather than to the Competition Appeal Tribunal. If one accepts her arguments, that still leaves open the question of the ability to appeal. If there is a financial penalty, it is all right to appeal. If there is a recommendation, there is no need to appeal. That leaves publishing information where the only remedy is a judicial review, which seems cumbersome, expensive and would involve delay, which, from debates in Committee, I know that the Minister thinks is unacceptable and undesirable. It would be only fair to have the right of appeal against naming and shaming, which, after all, can be more expensive to a supermarket than a financial penalty. That is to say, the damage to reputation can be considerably greater than a fine. If one is allowed to appeal on a financial penalty, there should surely be a right to appeal on something which could be an even greater punishment and more expensive. I beg to move.
Lord Plumb: My Lords, I can assure you that my noble friend Lord Howard really is a noble friend, although in this respect we disagree on the way forward. His amendment suggests that enforcement measures taken by an adjudicator, including naming and shaming, will be subject to the right to appeal to an appeals tribunal. This would surely lead to sclerosis of the adjudicator’s operations and the appeal could become bogged down in an attempt to enforce the groceries
code. As we have already heard in the debate so far, there are avenues for retailers if they believe a decision is unfair, such as judicial review. This is the case with the Food Standards Agency. It could refuse to take remedial action, and a Competition Appeal Tribunal is available for making those decisions, such as with the OFT or the commission. I said earlier and I repeat: the adjudicator will not make competition decisions. The job is to investigate whether the groceries code is coupled with fair play in the marketplace. I therefore do not support this amendment.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, out of consistency I support the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, in Amendment 14. I said in Committee that my view was that the appeals processes, the potential of judicial review which has been generated by this Bill and the existing law are unnecessarily complicated and could be greatly clarified. I do not think that the issues at stake in relation to a decision such as naming and shaming are of anything other than the order in which it is guaranteed that a large retailer will test by judicial review whether or not that decision is appropriate. I expect—and we should anticipate—that these issues will be of such moment to large retailers that they will deploy their legal resources in a way that guarantees a degree of review of any decision. Had the noble Baroness been minded to accept Amendment 11 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, I would not have felt it necessary to support this amendment, which introduces to the Bill what I consider to be not only an element of fairness, but one of reality. Had the noble Baroness been minded to allow or require the adjudicator to publish with any report of an investigation the response of a large retailer and make it public, then I would have thought that this would have been sufficient. In the absence of that, a large retailer will want to be vindicated and we will get litigation. It would be better contained inside the process. I know this is not a position supported by most people who broadly take my view of this legislation, but I support it.
“what information is to be published … how it must be published… and… the time by which it must be published”.
Clearly, there has to be a response to that. While it is not called an “appeal”, none the less, because notice has to be given by the adjudicator as to what he intends and the supermarket can respond to that, there is a time factor, and there is in effect an opportunity for the supermarket to say further things that it wants to say.
The common-law rule of natural justice, which we all know about, is that everybody has a right to be heard before some decision is made which may be adverse to them. The rule of natural justice as I have always understood it is that you only have an opportunity to be heard once. You cannot call upon some right of appeal under that rule, because that would be giving you the right to be heard twice, and that is not the position. Of course, there is always judicial review but that is, I admit, limited in that you have to show
something seriously wrong with the decision, and that no reasonable person would have made such a decision. It is fair enough that anybody should have a right of judicial review to have that checked, but no case for an appeal has been made out. The whole set-up of the adjudicator is meant to be fairly speedy and so on. Subject to the points I have mentioned—you have to be given advance notice about naming and shaming, and you have a right to respond to that—there is no call for any more than that.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the question of appeals is important and I can fully understand the desire of my noble friends Lord Howard of Rising and Lord Eccles to return to it at this stage of the Bill. However, although we have considered the matter carefully, the Government’s position remains unchanged.
Financial penalties clearly deserve a full merits right of appeal and the Bill provides for this. However, the other sanctions, including the requirement to publish information, have no direct legal consequence against a retailer. A recommendation is just that and is not binding, and a requirement to publish is essentially simply about distributing and sharing information which will, in all likelihood, be in the adjudicator’s investigation report. For this reason, therefore, judicial review is sufficient.
Although a judicial review will not normally involve a reconsideration of all the factual evidence, it could consider whether the adjudicator had reached a decision which was not supported by the facts, or had taken into account irrelevant facts or had failed to take account of relevant facts. I draw a comparison with the Financial Services Authority. Under the terms of the Financial Services Bill currently proceeding through this House, the FSA—or, in future, the Financial Conduct Authority—may issue public warning notices about a specific firm. Before making such a notice, it must give the firm the opportunity to comment, but there is no right of appeal before publication. Issuing a public warning notice in this way is, given the potential impact on reputation of the financial services firm in question, similar in consequence to our requirement to publish information which also has the benefit of warning those who deal with a retailer that they have been found in breach of the code. The requirement to give the firm the opportunity to comment is similar to that provided in Clause 5(4) of this Bill. This is similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has also said on this point.
Furthermore, as I said in Committee, a full right of appeal, requiring the repetition of a detailed fact-finding exercise, could seriously delay the requirement to publish and so substantially diminish its impact. In particular, we expect a full merits appeal of this kind normally to take significantly more time than a judicial review because it involves a reconsideration of all the facts. Taking these matters into account, the Government consider that a full right of appeal is needed only against financial penalties, and that otherwise the possibility of judicial review by the court would be sufficient.
think it would be wrong for either the CAT or the High Court to hear such appeals, nor do we think there is likely to be a significant difference in speed. However, on consideration, we do not think using the CAT would make the best use of its expertise, which is, of course, in competition matters. This is because, although introduced on competition grounds, the context of the adjudicator’s functions concerns contractual and commercial relationships between retailers and suppliers. The expertise needed to address these practices can be found in the High Court, or the Court of Session in Scotland. We do not think that the particular specialist expertise of the CAT is needed in order to consider the adjudicator’s decisions.
A further practical issue is whether, if the CAT were to hear appeals against financial penalties, appeals against costs or judicial reviews of all decisions of the adjudicator were also to be referred to the CAT. To the extent any appeals or reviews remained in the High Court, one could see two separate appeals or reviews on related subjects being taken forward in different fora at the same time. On the other hand, if they all took place in the CAT, this could lead to the CAT making rulings on matters even further from its core competition remit. That is a difficulty which is avoided by the Bill as we have it now. Therefore, in conclusion, we consider that appeals should most appropriately be to the High Court. I therefore ask the noble Lords to consider withdrawing their amendments.
Lord Howard of Rising: I thank the Minister for her remarks. I accept that the High Court would be as good a place as the Competition Appeal Tribunal. However, if an appeal is acceptable for a financial penalty, surely an appeal should also be acceptable for naming and shaming. It seems to me that fair play is the objective of this Bill, so surely there should be fair play in the application of the code by the adjudicator. Fair play surely would mean the right of appeal if someone thinks that the adjudicator has got it wrong.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his support and I endorse his comment that, if there is to be no right of appeal, there should be an opportunity for the retailers’ arguments to be included with any report produced by the adjudicator. Having made those points, to which I hope that the Minister will listen, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the question of financial penalties has been central to our deliberations on the Bill. It is, as we have heard today, an important question. The Government have consistently stated their view that financial penalties should be a reserve power, but that it should be possible to bring them in quickly if they prove to be necessary. At Second Reading and in Committee a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Knight, Lord Grantchester, Lord Razzall and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Randerson, and others, expressed the view that the Bill as drafted did not achieve this. Noble Lords indicated that the process for introducing fines was unnecessarily slow and bureaucratic and that it should be simplified. After careful consideration, I agree that noble Lords were right that the process was too slow. The Government have therefore decided to bring forward these amendments.
The amendments draw on the inspiration of the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Grantchester, in that they allow the adjudicator to publish guidance on how it would use financial penalties in advance of the Secretary of State making the order that would confer that power. This means that if the power is granted it can be used straight away, without the need for further consultation, provided that the adjudicator has already published the necessary guidance under Clause 12. To accompany the amendment to Clause 12, we have deleted paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 3.
I would also like to touch on the need for the Secretary of State to consult before introducing financial penalties, an issue which the noble Lords, Lord Razzall and Lord Teverson, raised in Committee. We think that this provision needs to be retained as it would be inappropriate to introduce such a significant change with no consultation. However, my officials have examined the Bill and advised that this consultation could, if desired, take place simultaneously with a triennial review by the Secretary of State. That would further streamline the process if the introduction of fines were being considered at a similar time to a triennial review, although I remind noble Lords that an order under Clause 9 and Schedule 3 does not have to await a triennial review.
We have, as I say, also deleted paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 3 to accompany the amendments to Clause 12. This means that fines could be introduced within six months of the need being identified. All it will require is a three-month consultation and an affirmative order. These amendments have been supported by three of the major supplier organisations: the NFU, the Food and Drink Federation and the British Brands Group. I hope that noble Lords agree that these amendments will significantly streamline the introduction of fines and that they are able to give them their support. I beg to move.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the concession which results from our debate in Committee. I would also like to take this opportunity to ask again the question that her noble friend Lord Plumb asked in the previous debate. Assuming that the adjudicator has consulted on the guidance around using the powers to fine, how long will it take, once the Secretary of State has made the decision, for these powers to be introduced?
Baroness Wilcox: I am delighted to answer the noble Lord’s question. Fines can be introduced within six months or so of the need being identified. I thought that I had just said that but I am very happy to repeat it.
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, this group of amendments is aimed at making it compulsory for the adjudicator to give advice to those seeking it from him. At the moment, there is no obligation. There is a strong argument that he should give advice. The opposing argument has been that he might get involved in frivolous requests if it is compulsory, and that that would mean unnecessary expense. A solution to that would be to make it compulsory to give advice to the large retailers which have to live by this code. They pay his expenses, so they are unlikely to incur unnecessary expense. Perhaps the Minister will consider this point and come back to us at Third Reading. I beg to move.
Lord True: My Lords, I intervened briefly in Grand Committee to support my noble friend on part of the amendments in this group. I think that he has already implied the following point in what he said. Clause 12(3) states:
I believe that the adjudicator must give such guidance; otherwise the position would be nonsensical. In Committee I gave the possible example of my local authority publishing a parking order but not putting up signs to say during which hours the parking scheme would operate and with people having to apply to find out that information.
With respect to my noble friend, I think that his amendments are probably rather widely drafted. Looking at the phrase, “may publish guidance about any other matter relating to the groceries code”, I can understand why my noble friend on the Front Bench might want to resist it. However, it might be a fruitful course, between now and Third Reading, if the Government thought about the more confined area to which my noble friend referred. It would seem to offend against natural justice not to tell people the steps they must take to comply with a code which could lead to their being fined, named and shamed or whatever. I hope the Minister will consider that specific point which arises from my noble friend’s Amendment 22 in this group.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I have sympathy for the spirit of all three amendments. On Amendments 21 and 22, we certainly consider that an important role of the adjudicator will be to provide advice and guidance. That is why we have included these clauses. It is clearly better if the adjudicator can encourage compliance with the code through light-touch means, such as advice, rather than by enforcing it after a breach has been committed through sanctions. However, as I think my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising would concede, we cannot make these provisions mandatory. The adjudicator must be able to prioritise his or her workload and cannot be required to give advice in all circumstances to any of the 10 retailers or thousands of suppliers who might have a question. Even limiting the “must” to the retailers, could be open to abuse by one retailer at the expense of others.
I ask noble Lords to keep in mind here that the adjudicator will be a public authority and will be required to act reasonably in responding to requests for advice. In that context, some discretion for the adjudicator is appropriate. Equally, while guidance is crucial, I would emphasise that the adjudicator is already required under Clause 12(1), to publish guidance about how he or she will carry out his or her core operations. It would not be meaningful to have a mandatory requirement for the adjudicator to publish guidance on “any other matter relating to the groceries code”. Again, there has to be some flexibility for the adjudicator.
On the other hand, the Government certainly consider that the adjudicator would normally answer reasonable requests, and should normally provide advice where this would aid in the core objective of encouraging compliance with the code. Similarly, sufficient guidance should be provided to ensure that retailers and suppliers have the clarity they need to interact effectively with the adjudicator. This is similar to the expectation that we would have of a local authority. If the adjudicator was not acting appropriately in giving advice and guidance, I am sure that the Secretary of State would take steps to remedy this by issuing guidance to the adjudicator under Clause 15(8). The adjudicator has a statutory obligation to take account of such guidance in carrying out his or her functions, which I hope offers some reassurance to my noble friend Lord Howard.
Clause 12(4), already requires the adjudicator to consult any persons whom he or she thinks appropriate before publishing guidance. In the vast majority of circumstances this would include the retailers. In the unlikely event that the adjudicator did not consult the retailers before publishing guidance, in a case where it was clear that he or she should have done so, there would be the possibility of judicial review. The adjudicator will be very aware of this, meaning that Amendment 24 is not necessary. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks, disappointing as they are. Of course, the point is that it is always the adjudicator who chooses what advice to give whereas there may be some area that is in doubt which the large retailers would like to know about. Perhaps they will be comforted by the Minister’s remarks, and by the fact that any future Secretary of State will be able to read in Hansard what is expected and call the adjudicator to order. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
“( ) If the Secretary of State makes an order under section 9 authorising the Adjudicator to impose financial penalties, the Adjudicator must publish guidance about the criteria that the Adjudicator intends to adopt in deciding the amount of a penalty (and this requirement can be satisfied by guidance published before the order is made).”
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I would like to propose government Amendment 28. I am sure that noble Lords will agree, whatever their perspective on the adjudicator, that it would be appropriate and helpful for a copy of his or her annual report to be laid before Parliament. This should improve scrutiny of the
adjudicator both here and in the other place. I hope that noble Lords will welcome this, whether they look forward to taking the opportunity of the report being laid to bury the adjudicator or to praise him. I therefore beg to move.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I am going to mark this one down as a victory for us as we moved a very similar amendment in Committee. I would not want my noble friend Lord Browne to think that he had got two and I had not got any at all, so I am very grateful to the Minister.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, in moving Amendment 30, I shall also speak to Amendments 43 and 44. As we interpret the letter that I referred to earlier from the Minister’s friend in the other place, Norman Lamb, to Ian Murray, regarding Select Committee confirmations of the appointment of the adjudicator, it did not show in a good light the Government’s esteem or priority with regard to the adjudicator. However, unlike the Government, we think that this is a significant new public body doing a very important role that people have long campaigned for, not just in the countryside but across the supermarket supply chain.
We therefore think that the process by which this body could be got rid of should mirror what we came up with in this House in the Public Bodies Act. Noble Lords will remember that when the Public Bodies Bill first started here it was not a great piece of legislation, with widespread use of Henry VIII powers, and the relevant committees of this House tore it to shreds. As a result, I am pleased to say the Government listened and we had a much improved Bill by the time it left this House, including introducing the super-affirmative procedure—which we have merely replicated in Amendment 44—for getting rid of public bodies that were listed in that Act. I am simply proposing that we should use the same process for the groceries code adjudicator. It is entirely logical. I suspect that the Minister will resist this amendment, although I would be delighted if she did not. Could she confirm in her reply that it is a cross-government policy that the super-affirmative procedure is particular to the Public Bodies Act and as new public bodies are created by the Government, they will use the affirmative procedure and not the super-affirmative procedure? If that is
now cross-government policy, it would be helpful for your Lordships’ House to know, so if the Minister could help in that respect, if not by agreeing to the amendment, that would be wonderful. I beg to move.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I am all in favour of sunset clauses for quangos and for posts that are created. I believe it is right that such posts and bodies should be reviewed from time to time to see whether they are fulfilling their purpose or their effectiveness. However, it is also right that they should be reviewed under a proper procedure and consultation with all the relevant parties including Parliament, in spite of my perhaps slightly rude remarks about professional politicians earlier. Clause 16(2) provides for a very inexplicit kind of review for the Secretary of State to carry out. It does not say anything about what sort of review this is. Are we talking about the Secretary of State’s kitchen cabinet or the Treasury? What sort of review is this? Something definitely needs to be clarified. I believe that Amendment 44, albeit with its rather longwinded, legalistic caveats, is probably as good as one can get in terms of clarification. However, I will wait and hear what the Minister has to say about this.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I fully understand the sentiments behind these amendments. All three parties have expressed their agreement that an adjudicator is needed, and the Government have no wish to enable the abolition of the adjudicator without proper parliamentary scrutiny. I remind noble Lords that the intention of Clause 16 is to bring the Bill into line with the broader policy on sunsetting and review, and the need to ensure that regulations and regulators can be removed once there is no longer a need for them. It does not indicate intent to abolish the adjudicator or transfer their functions, but is simply standard practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, suggested that the Government intended to set a precedent for the abolition of new public bodies by affirmative order. It may be the case that it is appropriate to require the abolition of some public bodies by super-affirmative order, but one must consider this on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the body or office. In the case of the adjudicator, first, the adjudicator will not be a “body” in the usual sense of the word but an officeholder, with only a small number of staff who will be seconded rather than directly employed. The adjudicator’s powers will extend to only one area of the economy: the groceries sector. Furthermore, he or she will have a tightly defined role: to enforce the groceries code.
Furthermore, as I said in Committee, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee scrutinised the Bill carefully. The committee is dedicated to the inspection of the procedures for delegated powers, and the Government take its recommendations very seriously. Given the purpose of the Bill and its specificity regarding the functions of the adjudicator, the committee decided that the affirmative procedure would be satisfactory and proportionate in this case.
I thank noble Lords for drawing our attention to the important issue of parliamentary scrutiny. However, one must also consider the issues of parliamentary time and efficiency. The investment of resources required for the super-affirmative procedure would not be proportionate to the functions of the adjudicator. In accordance with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, we are satisfied that the affirmative procedure is the most appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked about the Secretary of State’s review. It is referred to in Clause 15 and would require full consultation with retailers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, indicated the importance of listening to committees of the House during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. We are listening to the relevant committees on this Bill. Given these explanations, I hope that noble Lords will feel satisfied and will not press their amendments.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, that was a brief but interesting debate. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his support. The comments of the Minister are now on the record—another demonstration of a somewhat lukewarm view of this body. I do regard it as a body rather than an officeholder. The super-affirmative procedure was used in respect of the Commission for Rural Communities, which was largely an office of the rural advocate. This is one of the many examples in the Bill of where the super-affirmative procedure is used.
This will be a very powerful body—much more powerful than some of the bodies that are being abolished using the super-affirmative procedure. The Minister talked on some occasions about the power of name and shame. On others, when it was convenient, naming and shaming was described as a less powerful ability. I disagree with her. However, given the oddity of the Bill—as my noble friend Lord Browne set out, the Government could get rid of the code without even coming to Parliament—I will not press this, because if they chose to do that without even the “by your leave” of Parliament, we would have a referee without any rules and it would be a straightforward matter to get rid of the post. I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Lord True: My Lords, I have taken the unusual step of tabling an amendment to transpose two clauses—the effect of which I will come to shortly—to draw the attention of the House to a point that I was not able to raise at Second Reading because I was on local authority business. It was discussed briefly in Grand Committee,
but proceedings were curtailed. I do not intend to detain the House long on the matter, but it gives rise to important issues.
and so on. This is a new way of writing Bills which is reminiscent of the “frequently asked questions” pages on government websites. I tried to use one such page on the HMRC site the other day and was very glad after 10 minutes of struggling to get through to a nice lady who was able to help me.
I was told, first, that there was no discussion with the House about the new way of writing Bill sub-headings. When I asked the House authorities, they said that it had not been discussed and, since the drafting of the Bill was the responsibility of the noble Lord in charge—in this case, a Minister of the Crown—it would not fall within the terms of reference of the Procedure Committee of your Lordships’ House. The Public Bill Office confirmed that it was not possible to amend such sub-headings. My noble friend circulated a very helpful note to noble Lords demonstrating that the Government can contrive to amend the sub-headings in response to issues that are raised in Parliament. That is by grace and favour of the Executive, not by the will or desire of Parliament.
I am suspicious of these sub-headings for several reasons. The first argument put to us is that they are in plain English. I do not think that many of them are. On page 2, line 3, the heading is, “How does the Adjudicator carry out investigations and enforce their findings?”. That is 11 words, whereas “Investigation and enforcement”—which was the old way of doing things and is what is meant—is three words. On line 11 of page 4, the heading is, “What advice, guidance and recommendations does the Adjudicator give?”. That is nine words. Once the sub-heading would have been, “Advice and guidance”. That would be plain English. There are many other examples in the Bill, but I will not take the House through them.
Once we start changing the way in which legislation is written, whatever our good intentions there is the risk, in an area where Parliament has little direct control, that we will tend towards more descriptive writing. Noble Lords will remember that in the late 1990s we had rather more exciting titles to legislation, with “stakeholders” starting to appear in the gracious Speech. There is a risk that value judgments could interpose.
If the sub-headings are intended to be plain English traffic lights or signals to help the public find key matters in Bills, Parliament ought to have some responsibility for them. In Committee, I gave the example of the sub-heading, “How is the Adjudicator supervised?”, which covers the issue of abolition that noble Lords have just discussed. If you are slipping through these sub-headings, you would not find it. Who decides to highlight these things? There are clear difficulties.
means of these signposts, they would go to the sub-heading, but the text covers only Clause 14, which concerns the annual report that the adjudicator must publish. However, there are many other reporting requirements on the adjudicator in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, won a victory in respect of one of the reports that the adjudicator has to present. The sub-heading goes much wider than the subject of the annual report covered in Clause 14. A real plain English heading for Clause 14 would be the good old, “Annual report”. Why not choose that? Why have this new and potentially misleading wording? I realise that these matters may be beyond my noble friend the Minister, who has been incredibly helpful in responding to them, so I hope that the powers-that-be will think again about the misleading effect that some of these sub-headings might have, or the incomplete information that might be given.
I will not repeat the arguments I gave in Committee about logical inconsistency. I understand that my noble friend has responded positively in relation to the sub-heading on line 1 of page 9: “Will this law mean other changes to the law?”. This is logical nonsense. When the Act comes into effect, the amendments to other legislation will already be law, so the sub-heading is totally illogical. I understand from my noble friend that it is proposed to rethink that. In Committee we discussed the sub-heading on line 3 of page 8: “How is the Adjudicator funded?”. However, the clauses covered, Clause 19 and 20, both speak in terms of how the adjudicator “may” be funded; for example:
I agree with the Government that we should keep the law as plain as possible, using short, simple English. The more words you use, the more risk there is of inconsistency. The confusion that can be caused by the placing of headings is illustrated by my amendment, which proposes that Clause 17 should be moved to below Clause 18 because both clauses relate to the handling of information by the adjudicator and the sub-heading is: “How does the Adjudicator handle information?”. I understand that my noble friend has an answer to that.
I will bring my remarks to a conclusion, but we seem to be straying into unnecessary territory. If the Government—the masters of plain English—wish to give the public new signposts to find their way around legislation, let us not complicate the face of legislation; why not have a separate, short document, which may be available electronically? If people wanted to find out what the adjudicator’s reporting requirements were, you could have brief references to Clause 5, Clause 14 and so on, and people could be signposted around the Bill. The way it is done now just leads you to one clause, which gives an incomplete answer.
If this well meaning approach is intended to go forward, for it to be really accessible it should be done separately, not on the face of legislation. If Parliament is not going to be able to amend these sub-headings—and it never has been able to—we should leave the Bill
absolutely simple, which would not risk any question of executive value judgments or misleading placement of sub-headings. The pursuit of plain English guidance could be done in a short companion to the legislation, if that is required. The more we go to electronic access to legislation, the more these kinds of sub-headings will become important.
I hope that my noble friend is going to give a favourable response on the sub-headings that will justify the points that I have made. Obviously I do not intend to press this matter to a Division but it affects both Houses of Parliament, and it is reasonable to bring it to the attention of Parliament, given that this is the first Bill in which this new manner of writing legislation has arisen. I beg to move.
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I support my noble friend. While he was speaking, I looked through these new italicised sub-headings and was rather entertained. The first one is “How does the Adjudicator arbitrate disputes?”, and the next word down is “Arbitration”. The second sub-heading is “How does the Adjudicator carry out investigations and enforce their findings?”, and the next word down is “Investigations”. The third sub-heading is “What advice, guidance and recommendations does the Adjudicator give?”, and the next word down is “Advice”. Surely if anything is superfluous, these things are.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, as I indicated in Committee, I think the noble Lord, Lord True, has a point. At Second Reading I said that I did not find these “folksy” headings—as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, called them—offensive. I think they are fine, but the noble Lord, Lord True, is right that we here in Parliament should have the ability to amend them. He made mention of the responsibility of the Bill Minister in respect of these headings; of course there are also Private Members’ Bills, where you have to trust the individual parliamentarian to get it right. You could have a campaigning parliamentarian bringing forward Private Member’s legislation who would use the fact that Parliament cannot amend these sub-headings to say some quite odd things.
As the noble Lord, Lord True, says, if we are going to go down this road, the Government and the parliamentary authorities need to give some consideration to how we in Parliament can have some say over these sub-headings and not just leave it to informal chats with whoever is responsible for the Bill.
The Duke of Montrose: If the Government feel that they need these interrogatory questions put in print, are the Explanatory Notes not also available online, along with the Bill? Could these questions not be laid out in the Explanatory Notes rather than in the Bill itself?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, for bringing forward this interesting amendment. While we cannot support this specific amendment, I am able to take into account the noble Lord’s broader points about ensuring that sub-headings are accurate and clear.
First, italicised sub-headings in themselves are not a recent innovation. For example, the Slave Trade Act 1873 groups its clauses using italicised sub-headings such as “Seizure of Slave Ships” and “Bounties”. Although the approach to the precise wording of these italicised sub-headings may have changed, the Government have always striven to write in a way that communicates meaning as clearly as possible to the audience of the day. I have placed a note about this in the Library of both Houses.
Turning to the noble Lord’s specific amendment, I believe that Clause 17 should remain under the sub-heading “How is the Adjudicator supervised?”, because the purpose behind allowing the Secretary of State to require information from the adjudicator is to allow him to supervise the adjudicator through triennial reviews. This is quite separate from the vital issue of how the adjudicator should ensure that it upholds confidentiality when handling information, even though it is clear from Clause 17(2) that there is some relationship between these issues.
However, I have been able to take into account the noble Lord’s points concerning the wording of sub-headings. I have raised these concerns with the Public Bill Office, which has agreed to change “How is the Adjudicator funded?” to “How may the Adjudicator be funded?”, and “Will this law mean other changes to the law?” to “Amendments and transition”.
I hope that the noble Lord is content with these changes, and I am sure that the process of considering the amendments and discussing them for this Bill will help ensure careful drafting of similar headings in future Bills. I therefore beg the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord True: I thank my noble friend for that response. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I should not be churlish when I have a minor victory, as he put it. I do not really see it that way, although I am very grateful for the gracious response of my noble friend the Minister.
The reality is that this style of writing, with question marks, et cetera, is new; it is intended to be new, and when a Government or an Executive make such a change from the traditional, rather arid way of wording these things, it must be construed to be intended to have an effect. That will arouse the interest of other people. I said in Grand Committee, rather fancifully perhaps, that the courts might look at whether this was part of the intention. As the courts, like Parliament, never look at these sub-headings I think that is extremely unlikely. In the course of this debate I believe I have demonstrated that the sub-heading “What are the Adjudicator’s reporting requirements?” above Clause 14 is also nonsense because it does not cover the reports on investigations and so on. I hope my noble friend will take that point to colleagues, because the powers-that-be need to think carefully about this approach.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howard and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, who spoke in this debate. I am interested in the point that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, raised about Private Members’ legislation. It had not occurred to me but it is a significant point. I am also grateful for the support
from my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who made a very sensible suggestion that this signposting could be done to the side of the legislation. In the electronic age it might be much more helpful to do it via the Explanatory Notes or an introduction to the Explanatory Notes. The powers-that-be may want to consider that. I do not wish to detain the House so without more ado I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, if this regime is to work in the way in which all parties in this House intend it to work, suppliers will have to have complete confidence in the confidentiality of their communications with the adjudicator. One can envisage a reluctance from small suppliers, who will see the possibility that they will lose future contracts, from communicating with the adjudicator if they do not think that he and his staff will respect that confidentiality. The purpose of these amendments directed to Clause 17, which deals with the adjudicator’s obligation of confidentiality, is to toughen that obligation up. These five amendments do that in two ways. Two of them extend the obligation of confidentiality beyond the adjudicator to his or her deputy and staff. Two of them remove “may” and make the obligation of confidentiality overtly mandatory and not potentially discretionary by replacing it with “must”, although I am prepared to accept as a matter of law the point that the Minister made when she responded to a similar amendment in Committee. The fifth and last amendment creates a criminal offence for a breach of confidentiality. I will speak to them by reference to the Minister’s responses to similar amendments when we discussed this in Committee.
In relation to extending the obligation beyond the adjudicator to the deputy adjudicator and his or her staff, the Minister’s response was that she was confident that that obligation was already extended beyond the adjudicator. As the Minister and others who were there will remember, we were pressed for time on that day because we had a joint ambition to conclude the Committee stage by a particular time. I am inviting the Minister to go beyond a simple expression of confidence and to explain the mechanism that makes her so confident that the obligation on the adjudicator applies also to the deputy adjudicator and the staff of the adjudicator’s office when it is not spelled out in the Bill.
As far as replacing “may not” with “must not” in terms of respecting confidentiality is concerned, we have already discovered today that in the positive “may” and “must” are not interchangeable. But I am told that “may not” and “must not” have the same force, which I think is right as a matter of law. That is
the expression the Minister used; I do not claim credit for it. It occurs to me that if we are legislating for the public and both words mean the same, if we mean “must not” why do we not say “must not”? If we are endeavouring to encourage a degree of confidence in this role on the part of people who are deeply vulnerable then we should say “must not” if we mean “must not”.
Finally, and this is a much more important point, there is a lacuna in this Bill that the obligation of confidentiality is not backed up by any sanctions for breach. We are all aware of the vulnerability of electronic communication and therefore the probability that almost every public office will leak. Something will get out. There is no sanction for a breach in this Bill because the Minister told me that she is confident that the adjudicator and his staff will respect confidentiality. In my time in Government I worked in five different departments and I had confidence in all of them that they would not leak and that they would respect confidentiality. I might find it difficult retrospectively to find evidence that that confidence was well placed.
The Minister went on to say that if a person suffers damage from a breach, then there is the potential for that person to claim damages from the adjudicator or to seek an injunction to prevent a disclosure. But it will be too late if it is leaked. The injunction will mean nothing. In any event, unless one gets a super-injunction, as we have discovered in this country, the very fact that one is seeking an injunction always reveals or at least points to the information. It is very doubtful that any of the people whom we are seeking to protect by this legislation will be in a position to get a super-injunction, not that we would want them to, so they are left with damages.
I envisage this sort of situation. I am a supplier to one of these great monoliths, one of the 10 supermarket chains that we are seeking to regulate by this. I supply them with whatever—fresh strawberries or something; it does not matter. I have a complaint. I tell the adjudicator. The adjudicator says, “There is something in this complaint. In fact, this reveals a very important issue. I am going to take this all the way”. It leaks to my retailer that I was the cause of this complaint. It has caused them a lot of embarrassment and probably cost them a lot of money. I do not get another contract. I challenge anybody to tell me how I will convince any court against the battery of lawyers I will face if I choose to sue Tesco or Asda or any of the 10 retailers—I should not name them; it does not matter who it is—that the damage that I suffered was a direct result of the fact that I complained to the adjudicator. It will be impossible, so there needs to be a sanction. The Minister in her response to me in an earlier debate implicitly accepted that there needs to be a sanction. There is no sanction. Injunction does not fit the bill and it is fanciful to think that small suppliers—everybody is small compared to these supermarkets—will be able to take on the challenge of proving in an action against the adjudicator that it was the adjudicator’s negligence in allowing the confidentiality to be breached that caused the loss.
other pieces of legislation in which this device is used. I have uncovered two but I am sure that researchers would uncover many more. I already know the answer to that so the Minister does not need to deploy the answer that she deployed against me earlier. They are different pieces of legislation so these are different sets of circumstances that require different responses. I am a great believer in consistency. If we can impose a criminal offence on, for example, the legal aid authorities if they breach confidentiality then we should impose the potential for criminal offence on the adjudicator and his staff. I beg to move.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the adjudicator’s obligation to maintain strict standards of confidentiality is integral to the Bill. I therefore thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his careful consideration of how we can make these standards exacting.
As I said in Committee, the Government are confident that the deputy adjudicator and people acting on behalf of the adjudicator would be bound by the duty of confidentiality as set out in the Bill. The deputy and the individuals acting for the adjudicator have no functions which are independent of the adjudicator and can only carry out the adjudicator’s functions. In doing so, they will be subject to the same restrictions as the adjudicator. If a person acting on behalf of the adjudicator breaches Clause 18, normal agency principles will make that a breach of Clause 18 by the adjudicator. Additionally, we are convinced that the words “may not” and “must not” have the same force and meaning here.
The noble Lord has raised the issue of plain English with regard to the amendments. We are confident that the Bill has the correct legal sense as it stands. Although it would not be wrong to use “must not”, we believe that “may not” is slightly better here. The words “may not” in their context here are clearly intended to be prohibitive. If they were permissive, it would mean that the adjudicator was allowed not to make unauthorised disclosures, which would not make sense. If further clarification were needed, the words “prohibitions contained in this section” are used in Clause 18(5).
The noble Lord has also suggested that the creation of a criminal offence is needed to discourage breaches of confidentiality. This seems unnecessary, as the adjudicator will be a public authority and be expected to take his or her statutory duties very seriously.
“dismiss the person if satisfied that the person is unable, unwilling or unfit to perform his or her functions”.
Serious breaches of confidentiality, either personally or from those working for him, have the potential to satisfy these requirements. We therefore believe that the threat of dismissal will be a sufficient deterrent, if indeed a deterrent is needed.
There are therefore ample reasons for the adjudicator and those working for the adjudicator to take care over confidentiality. I agree that strict confidentiality requirements will be essential if the adjudicator is truly to eradicate the climate of fear that we are aiming to address in the Bill. The Government are
confident that the Bill provides for these requirements as it stands. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the care that she has again taken to address these issues having previously thought that she had seen me off in Grand Committee. I am pleased that we now have further clarity about the basis for her confidence in relation to the extension of the obligation to the deputy adjudicator and his staff—that is helpful. I maintain the position that, if “must not” and “may not” mean the same thing, “must not” is preferable, particularly when you are trying to build confidence among people who are in a weakened position—if they were not in a weakened position, we would not be doing this. I am disappointed, however, in the Minister’s failure to appreciate that there needs to a sanction for a breach of confidentiality which does not imply the dismissal of the adjudicator himself, because that, too, is about building confidence. If people see that a criminal offence will have been committed if their confidentiality is breached, their confidence in the legislation will be increased. I hope that the Minister’s confidence that there will be no leaks is well placed. I will regret it, as much as she will, if she is wrong. I just think that, in this internet age that we live in, it is fanciful to imagine that we are capable of creating an organisation that is leak-proof. However, I have been seen off on this occasion and I shall not come back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
38: Clause 19, page 8, line 10, at end insert “, and for the purpose of the first levy and any subsequent annual increase in the levy, the Adjudicator must undertake a consultation process with the specified retailers and consider any submissions received.
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, the amendment would allow large retailers to be consulted when the levy is set. It seems only reasonable, if they are paying the bill, for them to have some voice. The amendment would not oblige the adjudicator to listen to them, but they may make some points which are worth while and even suggest that he take more money than he is asking—who knows?
I also have Amendment 41 in this group. While I accepted the points that the Minister made in Committee about not wanting to create bureaucracy and making sure things were easily handled, I suggested before I withdrew the amendment that any surplus funds at the end of one year should be used in the next year. I think that this might be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government and would be grateful if the Minister could confirm it.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 39, which is in my name. It is of fundamental importance in relation to the levy funding, because Clause 19(5) indicates that the amount of a levy should be the same for all retailers. We have all received considerable lobbying, particularly from Waitrose, which feels that this is rather unfair and that the amount of the levy should be adjusted so that the retailers which have been penalised or named and shamed the most should pay a higher levy than those which have been penalised less. Waitrose, having taken this line of argument, obviously thinks that it is likely to offend and be named and shamed less than other retailers. It is a straightforward amendment, simply reflecting what I would regard as common sense: that when the amount of the levy is adjusted each year, the people who have been named and shamed the most should pay the most in the next levy.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. It seems to me natural justice that when retailers have to pay a levy, the levy should be related to their culpability, the nuisance and aggravation that they have caused and their contraventions of the code. It is absolutely right that the levy should reflect that and that, in the case of those organisations which have not crossed the adjudicator’s desk, an invoice should not cross theirs either.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I am supportive of all the amendments in this group. I suspect that a concession is coming the way of the Liberal Democrat Benches. While I have disagreed with virtually everything that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, has said on this Bill, he has made a valuable contribution to it and I think that he has got a point here. A graceful concession from the Minister on this one, too, would be wonderful.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Howard of Rising and Lord Eccles are ones that we have discussed before. As I said in Committee, the Government’s intention to fund the adjudicator via a levy is clearly set out in the Bill and in previous policy statements, so I see no need to require an order to be made first.
Regarding the suggestion of consultation on any increase of the levy, my worry is that this would add unnecessary bureaucracy and inflexibility. The adjudicator’s workload will vary depending on the number of complaints received. In some years, it may have very few, in which case the levy needed would be small. In other years, it may carry out major investigations requiring considerable resources, and I remain convinced that the safeguard of requiring the Secretary of State’s approval is the best way to balance flexibility and accountability.
On the subject of flexibility, my noble friends have also tabled an amendment regarding the returning of any unused funds to the retailers. While I believe that “may” adds helpful flexibility, I can assure them that any unused funds would certainly be taken into account when calculating the size of the next levy, so that no more was raised from the retailers than was absolutely necessary. I would therefore ask the noble Lords to withdraw those amendments.
With regards to the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Razzall and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in Committee, I indicated that the Government were sympathetic to an amendment along these lines. The Government have always stated that the intention should be that as soon as he or she has sufficient experience, the adjudicator should move to a differential levy. After consideration, it therefore seemed unnecessarily bureaucratic to require an order to be passed before this could be done and I am grateful to the noble Lords for bringing forward this amendment.
The fact that individual levies would still need to be approved by the Secretary of State will provide an adequate safeguard against abuse. Furthermore, the ways in which the levy can be raised are clearly specified. The levy must be the same for each retailer or else based on criteria broadly intended to reflect the expense and time the adjudicator expects to spend in dealing with matters relating to each retailer. It could not, for example, be proportional to turnover as that would not fit these specifications.
Lord Howard of Rising: I am grateful to my noble friend for indicating that the surplus in one year would be set off against the next year. I am completely gobsmacked at getting some support from the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
39: Clause 19, page 8, line 12, leave out from beginning to “based” in line 14 and insert “The Adjudicator may require different specified retailers to pay different amounts of levy but any differences must be”
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat as a Statement an Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in another place. It is as follows:
First, it was reported that Ministers knew there would be a shortfall in security staff last year. This is untrue. HMIC reported, at my request, on LOCOG’s security preparations last September, and it recommended several measures. HMIC reported again in February and concluded that LOCOG had plans in place to deliver the required number of security personnel. Neither HMIC report identified specific problems with G4S scheduling.
Secondly, it was reported that the Minister for Crime and Security had attended meetings in which he was told there was a security staff shortage. In fact, G4S repeatedly assured us that they would overshoot their targets. As I told the House on Thursday, G4S only told the Government that they would be unable to meet their contractual obligations last Wednesday and we took immediate action.
Thirdly, it was reported that we must have known about the shortfall because the military was put on standby in April. This is also not the case. Seven thousand five hundred troops have been part of the security plans since December. A further 1,000 were on standby in the event of flooding or other such civil emergencies, and we placed a further 2,000 on standby as a precaution in case the threat level increased. The 3,500 troops whose deployment I announced last Thursday are a direct response to the failure of G4S to meet its contractual obligations. A further contingency will remain.
From the beginning, the organisers planned to use private sector personnel for venue security. LOCOG confirmed they would be using private sector security personnel well before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. LOCOG started the procurement process for security personnel in April 2010.
That audit and review identified a shortfall in LOCOG’s venue security budget, which we addressed in the Comprehensive Spending Review, but we recognised that with a project of this size and scale, even this additional funding might not ensure the level of security we needed. So I also asked for outside assurance of LOCOG’s venue security planning.
In 2011, I commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out an inspection of LOCOG’s venue security plans. As I have already said, this led to several recommendations that were acted upon by the Home Office, the police and LOCOG.
LOCOG and the Home Office monitored delivery throughout the following months. G4S assured LOCOG and the Government continuously that it would be able to deliver its contractual obligations, but on Wednesday 11 July, following the difficulties with scheduling which the company has acknowledged, G4S notified LOCOG and the Government that it would not be able to provide the numbers of security personnel specified in its contract.
I want to be clear that this was the first time that G4S admitted to any Minister that it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that it had promised. We acted immediately to make further contingency arrangements by agreeing the deployment of 3,500 further troops. That brings the total military contribution to the Games to 17,000, including personnel from all three services.
G4S has failed to deliver its contractual obligations, but we have the finest military personnel in the world—troops who are willing, ready and able to step in when their country calls—and we can be sure of their professionalism in helping to deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games”.
I have listened carefully to the Statement and in it the Home Secretary says that following a report from HMIC in February 2012, LOCOG and the Home Office monitored delivery throughout the following months. How was that done? What were those checks and monitoring systems that the Government put in place to ensure that security personnel were being trained and would be in the right places at the right times? Did the Home Office and LOCOG fail in their monitoring, or did the Government and LOCOG just hand over the entire security operation to G4S with no checks or monitoring other than a government Minister sitting in meetings listening to false assurances from G4S?
I noted what the Home Secretary said in her Statement about the Minister, James Brokenshire, not receiving information about security staff shortages. So what was the purpose of James Brokenshire attending those meetings? What happened at those meetings? Did LOCOG and the government Ministers just sit there and listen to assurances from G4S that it was on target and everything was okay? Did anyone ask for evidence that that was the case?
Did the Government say, “Is everything going to plan and on time?”. Did G4S say, “Yes”, and did the Government just say, “That’s okay”? If the Home Secretary’s Statement, repeated in your Lordships’ House, that the Home Office and LOCOG
weremonitoring delivery, is accurate, it is hard to understand the Home Secretary’s Statement, when she says later:
“was the first time that G4S admitted to any Minister that it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that it had promised”.
It is essential that we know about the monitoring arrangements to which the Home Secretary refers in her Statement. Will the Government publish the minutes or notes of the meetings that James Brokenshire attended on behalf of the Home Office? Can we have an assurance that that is not the usual way that the Government do business with business partners?
When the Home Secretary was asked earlier whether she could confirm the exact number of security staff that G4S would provide for the Games, she appeared unable to do so. I have been given a transcript of what she said in the House of Commons. She said:
“They are, they are, we are, continuing to accredit personnel for G4S and they are continuing to schedule personnel for the Olympic games and the precise balance of the numbers … they will be providing … will become clear over the next few days. But this is, this is, well, I suggest to Honourable Members opposite that they actually look at the statements that have been made by G4S about how they are dealing with this issue and what the problem is and the suggestion that somehow … this is a problem for us is not the case”.
What number of personnel is G4S now saying that it will be able to provide for the Games? What action are the Government taking to ensure that we can all have confidence in the training, support, management and adjustable arrangements for security staff to be in the right place at the right time?
Can the Government assure your Lordships’ House that the shortfall of security staff now being provided by G4S will not result in any additional cost to the public purse? I am greatly relieved that contingency plans were in place, although, obviously, government failures to identify the problem meant that they are having to be used very late in the day. I have great confidence in our Armed Forces—more than in G4S or the Government—but are the Government satisfied with the accommodation arrangements being provided for the Armed Forces, as this is being done at very short notice? I have received a number of reports—I would be happy to receive assurances that they are not correct—of soldiers having to be put up in shopping centres, school gyms and hurriedly constructed large shed-type accommodation. What will be the costs of those and who will meet them?
The Government have assured the Armed Forces that they will not be out of pocket for any family holidays or events that they have booked. That is small consolation for a soldier who has been in Afghanistan and now sees his leave cancelled to undertake security arrangements for the Olympics. Can you imagine how much he would enjoy being with family and friends? Who is meeting those costs?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness in her final remarks. I think that all of us want to ensure that this will be a great experience for all those not only taking part in but attending the Olympics. Across all parties, on all sides of this House and another place, we want to ensure that. We also want to ensure that we deal with security matters in the most appropriate manner. That is why I can give the noble Baroness an assurance, as I did in repeating the Statement, that we increased the amount of money available for security after reviews that took place just over a year ago. That was the right thing to do, and we made sure that we have the right plans in place. When these problems arose, as the noble Baroness should have acknowledged, our contingency plans came into effect very well, and there were ways to deal with these matters.
If I may, I will deal with the questions that the noble Baroness put to me one by one. She first asked how we were monitoring these matters. I could run through an extensive list of meetings that Ministers—both the Home Secretary and my honourable friend Mr Brokenshire—had with LOCOG and G4S, but I shall not delay the House at this stage by detailing every meeting, all of which I have listed here. I assure her that we can make public in due course how many meetings there were and when they took place. I will take advice as to whether minutes of those meetings can be made available, but I shall not answer that question for the moment.
I can say that G4S provided detailed data—as it should; that is part of the contractual arrangements—and detailed assurances. As my right honourable friend made clear in her Statement, it was only on 11 July, last week, that G4S admitted that the programme was not on track. I do not think that noble Lords opposite should try to suggest that there is some conspiracy going on. There has been, I will not say a cock-up, but let us say a failure of management, which was not quite what it should have been. I do not know whether the noble Baroness heard the comments made by the chairman of G4S this morning on the radio, but that became apparent from them.
The noble Baroness then asked what numbers G4S will be able to provide. Again, I cannot give her the exact number at this stage. It will depend on how many complete the training and make it through the accreditation process. G4S cannot yet provide a precise answer, but that is no different from other sporting events—although I appreciate that this is a much bigger sporting event—that take place regularly. Sporting events of this sort obviously have to be dealt with by firms of this sort because there is no way that the Government could do it on our own.
On the costs to the public purse, G4S has confirmed that it will meet any extra costs associated with the military deployment, including accommodation and compensating soldiers for any lost leave. On the noble Baroness’s last point, again, I cannot precisely answer what accommodation will be provided for the additional soldiers, but we will ensure that they are accommodated in the most appropriate manner. I can give the categoric
assurance that none will be out of pocket in any way and there will not be any extra cost to the public purse, because that will be met by G4S.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the important thing now is to plan for the immediate future rather than to look further forward? Who is now in overall charge of the security operation? Is a single individual in charge for both those recruited by G4S and the troops who are now being brought in? Secondly, there are reports that the computer to be used to allocate people to their posts was not working properly. Is it working now? Finally, there have been questions whether those recruited have the necessary language qualifications. Is that a problem or not?
Lord Henley: My Lords, working backwards through my noble friend’s questions, if people do not have the appropriate language skills, they will not get accreditation to work. I cannot comment on whether the computer has not been working at the moment but I will make inquiries and let my noble friend know. As for who is in charge of the overall security operation, obviously, in the end, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in overall charge and that will cascade down through all the usual people below her. The Armed Forces will report to their individual officers, but others will be involved in the process working out. G4S employees will obviously be a responsibility for G4S, but they must be properly accredited before they begin to work on such matters.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I raise two questions of a legalistic nature. First, when the contract was placed with G4S, how many other bodies, agencies or companies were in any way shortlisted for consideration? Secondly, the Minister has assured the House that G4S intends to compensate in full any losses suffered. Is that a term of the contract? Was it a penal clause or is it an aspiration on the part of G4S?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not have the details of the contract in front of me, but I can once again give the assurance that G4S has made it quite clear that it will meet the extra costs resulting from the errors that it has made. I can categorically assure the noble Lord that there were others who bid, but I am not in a position at this stage to say who they were.
Lord Prescott: My Lords, this is the third time in eight days that Parliament has received assurances from this Government that the security of the Olympic Games will not be compromised. The Government’s desperation in drafting in not only the Armed Forces but now the police is an indication of the total failure of the private companies involved to deliver on their contractual requirements to ensure Olympic security. Have the Government investigated the question I raised with the Minister during the Statement last Thursday regarding the fact that there are other companies almost bound to collapse and not provide their contractual requirements on fire security matters? Can the Minister tell me?
The desperation involved in drafting in the armed services clearly shows that the Holy Trinity of the Government, LOCOG and G4S has contributed to the failure to provide proper security for the great experience of the Olympics to which the Minister refers. Will the Government reconsider the possibility, particularly with regard to G4S and the police, of the intention to privatise our police forces? G4S is already negotiating for both the West Midlands and Surrey police forces. Will the Minister support the police authority in the Surrey area, which has cancelled its G4S contract, and will he encourage the West Midlands authority to do the same? When will he recognise that public service cannot be replaced by private service?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord overstates his case, and overstates it rather badly. There is no question of privatising the police force, as he claims, although obviously there are certain parts of police work that can be done by private sector companies. That does not mean we are privatising the police force, which is a separate issue and nothing to do with what is happening here.
We are talking today about the security of the Olympics and different bits of security that will be carried out by different people. As the noble Lord knows perfectly well, private companies are always brought in to provide most of the basic security at any major sporting event in terms of checking bags and checking people as they go in. This is what happens at Wembley, at test matches, at Wimbledon and on many other occasions. The Olympics are no different, except they are bigger.
We entered into a competitive process with a number of companies—G4S won and it has not delivered as it should have done. We have made this clear today and in earlier Statements. We have appropriate contingency plans in place to make sure that if G4S failed in part of its job we could meet our obligations to have an appropriately secure Olympics. That is what we are going to have, so I think the noble Lord going on a rant of this sort is not helpful and does not do any good. We had made sure that we have answered all relevant questions—that is what we hope to do to as well as providing a properly secure Olympics.
Lord Dannatt: My Lords, I am sure that the Members of this House want to see a safe and secure Games, and that the last-minute increase in the size of the Armed Forces participation in the security operation will help to guarantee this. It is sad that we have had to have these sharp discussions in advance of the Olympics, attracting negative publicity, but that is life. I am sure the Minister would agree that there should be an investigation after the Games as to how we got into this position. Not wishing to prejudge that, I would like to place it on record, as the Minister did in his Statement, that when the Games were awarded to London in 2005 it was said that they would be civilian-run. However, that defies recent history about very large sporting events such as other Olympic Games. Was it not complacent of the Government of the day not to have planned from the outset for considerable use of the military, which has experience of dealing with
large numbers of people and of using a clear chain of command, and might well have prevented the situation that we find ourselves in now?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his words, particularly when he says that we should not at this stage be making negative comments about the Games. We want them to be a good set of Games—we want them to be secure, but not to be seen as “the security Games”. I am also grateful for his comments about what happened at earlier stages when we were not in government in terms of the original plans for the Games and how they were set up.
It is quite right that we are making use of contingency plans to bring in extra military service personnel to help out on some aspects of the Games, and that earlier on we brought in an extra 5,000 specialists from the Armed Forces to address security matters that only they could ever have dealt with, as we see from HMS “Ocean”, moored in the Thames, and other things that the private sector obviously cannot produce. We are talking here about providing some extra military personnel to deal with the problems created by the issues that G4S had. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that adequate training will be available, given that so many individuals will be coming to the job so late, and that the right training will be given to people designated to particular jobs? There was an unfortunate item on the news last night when a young man who was said to have been put forward by G4S—I think it was more than he was set up than put forward—indicated his difficulties with language.
As a more general and principled question, will the G4S contract be published? Before I am told that it is commercial and in confidence, I raise the point that both parties to a contract can agree to vary that sort of clause and perhaps G4S can be persuaded that it would be in the public interest, in both senses of the word, that the contract should be published.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I can give my noble friend an assurance that everyone doing a job involving security will have adequate training and we shall make sure that people who do not have adequate training will not be accredited.
Regarding whether the G4S contract will be published, that might be a matter for both parties to consider after the event, so let us leave it until then. It might be that G4S wishes to publish it, or that some sort of post-mortem, as my noble friend is suggesting, might be appropriate after these Games. I do not think it is proper that we should create fears that are not necessarily there at this stage.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, we are where we are, and I entirely agree with the Minister that this is not the time for looking retrospectively and trying to find out what happened. However, the fact of the matter is that every week, every day and almost every hour we hear things that are completely disconcerting
to the general public and to the people who are going to be involved in the Games, both participants and spectators. The role of the Government should always be the safety of those people and it has to be their priority. I am sure that the more the general public read, the more they are losing confidence and faith in what the Home Secretary has been doing. Heaven knows how we got ourselves into this predicament. I do not want to put it too worryingly, but it looks as if we are almost in a national security crisis and I want to know how bad it has got to be before the Minister does something about that. Every single thing that we have heard today indicates that the security we have always promised to the people coming to watch these Games is not going to be in place. So what is the Minister’s next move—we want to know?
Lord Henley: My Lords, again, I suspect that the noble Baroness is exaggerating by saying that every day there is some new problem. There were problems last week and over the weekend there were further press reports that have now been dealt with by my right honourable friend in her Answer, where she made it quite clear that most of them are completely untrue. Although I appreciate that not many have been doing it in this House, when I listened to the debate in another place there was a great deal of unnecessary point-scoring on questions of security. It is very dangerous of the party opposite. I can assure the House that we take security as the absolute top priority but we do not want to turn these Games into the security Games. We want to ensure that there is appropriate protection of individuals, and that will happen. That is why we have reacted as we did and why we set up the contingency plans that we have. They have come into effect as a result of the failures of G4S.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I was part of the Bill team that worked with Tessa Jowell for several years, from the first time that we brought the Bill through all the way up until the election. We worked together to make sure that these Games were delivered by the British Parliament as a cross-party project. Up until today or yesterday, that has been so and I beg noble Lords not to start nitpicking on cross-party points.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very grateful for what my noble friend said, particularly about Tessa Jowell and all the work that she has done for the Olympics ever since she put that bid in some time back in 2002, or whenever it started. The point that she made, which again I think my noble friend will be aware of, is that this is not the time to start trying to point-score on a political basis, as has been happening. We want to ensure that we have a good and successful Games, and that they are secure Games. However, we do not want security to dominate them so that they become a security Games. We want a good, successful Games that everyone will enjoy.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, could the Minister persuade our Government to talk to the Government of Israel about transferring, as a good-will gesture, the G4S personnel who are currently guarding—rather brutally—the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories of
Palestine? Could he persuade them to transfer those people, thus making the Games a great experience for Palestinians as well as for Londoners?
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, in asking this question I declare an interest that is in the Lords register. Is the Minister aware of the advanced technical means of securing large perimeter areas by means such as radar, which obviously reduce the manpower required for these purposes? Is he aware that some 18 months ago an approach was made to the Olympic security authorities by a company that secured Sydney harbour in Australia? Presentations were given and considerable interest was shown by those who received the presentation but, unfortunately, there does not appear to have been any follow-up by those in charge of security at the Olympic authorities.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that technology can obviously always play a very important part in security but it would be a very rash and foolish Government who relied only on technology. In the end, one needs to have feet on the ground and to have people there who are properly trained and accredited to do the right job.
Lord Patten: My Lords, in declaring my interest as a member of the advisory board of the British Olympic Association, whose foremost concern is for the training, welfare, health and, above all, security of British athletes, I congratulate my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Office very warmly on the action that she has taken. Is my noble friend the Minister convinced, looking forward not back at any post-mortem that might happen, that in the next few weeks—and indeed more than that—the chief executive and top management team of LOCOG have the capacity and capability to be good customers of the security that they are paying for and commissioning? They are in the front line, and have been for many years, in commissioning the security that we have had. Secondly, I also ask my noble friend for an absolute assurance that as the Olympic Games morph and transmogrify into the Paralympic Games there will be no diminution whatever in the level of security provided during the Paralympics as compared to the Olympics, because soft targets are easy targets.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I give an assurance to my noble friend that we will maintain security at whatever is the appropriate level on the advice that we receive from those who have an interest in security matters. It is therefore unlikely to be relaxed as the Olympics morph, as my noble friend put it, into the Paralympics. As regards the assurances that he would like from me personally about LOCOG, I have not been involved in any discussions with the officials and management of LOCOG but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has, as has my honourable friend Mr James Brokenshire. I think they could give assurances to my noble friend that they are satisfied that it will ensure that we maintain the right level of security.
Lord Addington: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is probably the biggest mistake we have had in the preparation of the Games so far? Will he assure the House, and indeed Parliament, that when we review everything to try to get the soft legacy, which will probably be the biggest part of the legacy of this, we will get a full review of what happened, when and why, so that we can study it at leisure? There should not be any point-scoring now and we should make sure that we learn what has actually happened and ensure that the next Games or event does not repeat these mistakes. Let it make its new ones.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think my noble friend was at the same meeting as me when a number of potential Olympic ambassadors were briefed, and he will then remember that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport said that, however well things went, there were likely to be mistakes. That is in the nature of things and we will look at those mistakes afterwards and ensure that we resolve them so that they do not happen again. My noble friend asks that we ensure that we do not have any further mistakes the next time we have the Olympics. I appreciate that there are one or two Members of this House who might remember the previous Olympics back in 1948. I do not and I am not sure that I will be around for the next time.
Lord Henley: I appreciate that my noble friend is now saying that there will be the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in two years’ time. I am sure that the Scottish Government will be taking all possible advice on these matters and will learn as much as they can from any possible mistakes that may or may not have happened.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, as noble Lords are well aware, when this Government came into power they inherited the largest peacetime deficit in our history. We are doing everything possible to get the economy moving and to deal with the enormous debts we inherited. Last week’s Fiscal Sustainability Report by the Office for Budget Responsibility highlighted the importance of the Government’s plans to ensure the long-term sustainability of the public finances. Our consolidation plans build on last year’s public sector pensions deal, which the OBR has identified as instrumental in preventing further increases in public sector net debt over the long term.
This Bill implements further reforms to improve the state of the economy. Despite the challenging economic backdrop, we remain committed to supporting growth. The Bill introduces a number of changes to encourage growth in our economy and help businesses of all sizes. The Government have clearly set out their ambition to have the most competitive tax system in the G20. The competitiveness of our tax system diminished over the last decade, as our competitors cut their corporation tax rates. We have taken action to address this. Clauses 5 and 6 make further cuts to the main rate of corporation tax, to a rate of 23% next year. This will be followed by a further cut in the Finance Bill of 2013. A cut in the main rate of corporation tax benefits businesses right across the country. As the CBI said:
The Bill also introduces new controlled foreign companies rules designed to improve the UK’s tax competitiveness. These reforms will ensure that this is done in a way that reflects modern, global business practices, significantly reducing the compliance burdens of business. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor said in his Budget Statement, this reform,
“will stop global firms leaving Britain, as they were, and encourage them to start coming here”.—[
, Commons, 21/3/12; col. 802.]
Alongside these reforms, the Bill also introduces a patent box to encourage innovative activity in the UK, but competitiveness is not only about the corporation tax rate. We had been told that the 50p rate of income tax was damaging to our competitiveness and that it would not raise revenue. Indeed, the HMRC report, published alongside the Budget, sets out that the 50p rate is distortive, is damaging to international competitiveness and is an economically inefficient way of raising revenue. In short, the 50p rate has failed. The analysis by HMRC shows that the yield would be, at best, £1 billion and, at worst, may raise nothing at all. This is because the behavioural response has been substantially larger than expected. The 50p rate has damaged the UK’s competitiveness at the very time we must do all we can to improve it. That is why we will reduce the additional rate to 45p from next year. As the CBI said:
We want to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business. That is why the Bill introduces measures to enable greater investment in our small and medium-sized companies. The increases to thresholds and better targeting of the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts in Clauses 39 and 40 will allow businesses to raise equity more easily. The Bill also establishes the new seed enterprise investment scheme to encourage investment into new, early-stage companies by providing tax relief of 50% to investors.
The Bill also provides for individuals. The increase in the personal allowance in Clause 3 will set the value at £8,105 from 6 April this year and we have announced a further increase of £1,100 next year, the largest ever increase in cash terms. The Government are taking 2 million people out of income tax and providing a tax cut to 24 million people. This is a major step towards our commitment to raising the personal allowance to £10,000 by the end of this Parliament.
The Bill also makes changes to the age-related allowances that support our objective to make the tax system simpler and easier for people to understand, but no pensioners will be worse off in cash terms as a result of these changes and this year our triple lock will see the basic state pension increase by over £275. This is £127 more than the previous Government’s plans.
This Government are responsive to the concerns of working families and businesses about the cost of living and the challenges of running a business. That is why we have deferred the fuel duty rise, so that road users are paying 10p a litre less in taxation than they would be doing had Labour still been in power. As RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said:
As noble Lords know, this Government have also had to make difficult decisions so that we can tackle the deficit. This includes withdrawing child benefit from households earning more than £50,000. This is a fair way to make savings. We are also taking steps to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share. The Budget package ensures that the wealthiest will pay five times more than the cost of reducing the additional rate of income tax. The introduction of a new higher rate of stamp duty land tax at 7% on properties sold for more than £2 million will raise over £1 billion in the next five years. The new stamp duty land tax enveloping entry charge rate of 15% will deter those seeking to put their high-value property into corporate structures to avoid tax. The introduction of the UK-Switzerland agreement will ensure that we address the tax loss from those who put their money into Swiss banks to evade tax, and we are tackling tax avoidance with measures in the Bill raising over £1 billion in total.
We will also raise revenue from those sectors that are better able to pay. The increase in the bank levy in Clause 209 will ensure that that the levy will raise around £10 billion from banks over the course of this Parliament, yield that is helping to ensure that we can reduce the deficit, which in turn ensures the stable, low interest rates that are of such benefit to our economy.
The Government are committed to greater consultation on tax policy changes. Most of the measures in the Bill were announced at Budget 2011 and have been subject to extensive consultation. We published more than 400 pages of draft legislation for comment in December and received more than 450 comments. This consultation has ensured better legislation with fewer changes required.
The Bill sets out changes to improve our competitiveness, encourage investment and support our businesses through the recovery. Of course, we always said that recovery would be choppy. In fact, last year the independent Office for Budget Responsibility revealed that the underlying damage to the economy,
and our challenge in repairing it, was much greater that anyone had thought. However, we are doing everything possible to confront Britain’s problems, get the economy moving and deal with the enormous debts we inherited. The Bill builds on the progress that the Government have made to date to help families, help business and support economic growth, and I commend it to the House.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, because of the way in which legislation progresses through the Commons and through this House, I feel that all of us present tonight have discussed all the issues contained in the Bill on numerous occasions. I have to confess to a small temptation just to say, “Please refer to speeches I made earlier”. It means that I shall be brief and just hit on the few issues that I wish to highlight.
To me, the most important measure in the Bill is the raising of the starting threshold for income tax to £8,105 this year and to more than £9,000 next year. Two million low-income earners will have been taken out of paying income tax altogether by this and previous lifts in the threshold and, as the Minister said, some 24 million middle and low-earning income tax payers will have seen their income tax bills reduced by about £330. This has to be right. It moves us well on the way to a starting threshold of £10,000, as set out in the coalition agreement. As a Liberal Democrat, I see it as a significant move towards a threshold that, in essence, starts above the minimum wage, with the notion that there is a relationship between earnings on the minimum wage and the point at which income tax starts. I believe that that has to be right as a major incentive into work and a major measure to tackle long-term poverty.
Cutting taxes significantly at the bottom end of the earnings spectrum is now pretty much taken for granted as the right thing to do across all the parties. I only have a short memory, but I remember all the debates not long ago when this looked pretty revolutionary. The Labour Party chose not to do it in what were considered to be times of plenty, so the fact that it is now being achieved in times of austerity will, I hope, embed this type of philosophy across all the things that we do, no matter which party we come from, as we look at taxation in the future. This is one of the most progressive tax strategies that Governments have adopted in recent years. It has the character of a permanent change and to me is far more effective than the one-off one-year VAT cut that has sometimes been proposed by Labour—which, interestingly, would help the richest members of our community the most.
The Bill also continues to strengthen support for business. I am particularly pleased with the increased incentives for small businesses, new start-ups and entrepreneurs. However, I ask the Government to look at extending the enhanced capital allowances regime to small businesses more widely than just to those in the enterprise zones. I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rebalancing the British Economy, an excellent group that I recommend to the House. Of all the evidence that the group has heard, I have been most struck by that given by Brompton Bicycles, a firm that sells a conventional product but is
successful in large part because its manufacturing processes are at the cutting edge of technology. UK small businesses desperately need to accelerate their adoption of new manufacturing technologies to compete and grow. They may not be high-tech in their products, but to be high-tech in their manufacturing tends to make them much more competitive and effective. Incentives to invest in these new processes for small businesses are crucial and I encourage the Government to put this high on their agenda.
The tax avoidance measures in the Bill are very welcome and, I would say, long overdue. Stamp duty has been a particular concern of mine because avoidance by the wealthy is so unfair to the ordinary house buyer. The Bill clamps down on some schemes that use domestic corporate structures to avoid stamp duty, though, in my reading it has not yet eliminated what I would call the Cayman Islands problem—the number of properties that are now already in Cayman Islands trusts or will be put into them in future, avoiding not just stamp duty but also capital gains and inheritance tax. I hope that the Government will make a move on that very soon because it remains a significant loophole and a real sore to every taxpayer who pays up on stamp duty.
Economic growth overshadows all fiscal and economic debates. I am therefore pleased that the Funding for Lending scheme was launched last week by the Treasury and the Bank of England. However, it strikes me as extraordinary that the Treasury and the Bank of England have had to set up a scheme in such a way that banks can get discounted loans only by actually maintaining or increasing lending. That tells you that that they have responded to just about nothing else. To me, that underscores the argument for banking reform, which, hopefully, will be a major occupation for this House after Christmas.
Lord Browne of Belmont: My Lords, I spoke in this debate last year to express my concern that, despite numerous statements by the Prime Minister before and since the general election about the importance of recognising marriage in the tax system, nothing has happened. It is a great sadness to me that, one year on, that is still the case.
Let us be very clear: the commitment to recognise marriage was in the Conservative manifesto and made it into the coalition agreement, so it is not a policy that has been dropped because of the coalition. The Liberal Democrats have formally been given the right to abstain and, in embracing the coalition agreement, have consented to this. This should ensure a majority adequate to secure the passage of the measure, given that not only Conservative Members of another place will vote for the proposal. There is therefore no reason why the Government should not action their commitment and every reason why they must.
What I am saying is that, given the importance of this commitment, it is a great shame that it has not been given greater priority. Moreover, because of developments since 2010 and the time that it will take to introduce a transferable allowance, I consider that it is now imperative that the introduction of the allowance be made a top priority for 2013.
UK residents find themselves in a relatively unusual position. Only 20.9% of people living in OECD member states are subject to individual taxation without spousal allowances or credits. Most of these live in just two countries—the United Kingdom and Mexico. Among highly developed large economies, the UK is alone in operating a tax system that ignores spousal obligations.
Given that we fail to recognise marriage in the tax system, it is hardly surprising that many married couples in the UK are treated less well than they would be in other developed countries, on average. When the commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system through a transferable allowance was made in 2010, the latest available figures demonstrated that the tax burden on a one-earner married couple with two children and on average wage was 33% greater than the OECD average. Consequently, UK residents faced a greater disincentive to marriage than did most people living in the developed OECD world.
That is of importance for two reasons. The first is child development. The social science evidence is very clear: marriage provides a much more stable environment for child development than cohabitation, so there is no public policy merit in making it harder for people to marry here than in other developed countries. This is hugely important, because the evidence also shows clearly that children raised in stable two-parent homes do much better on average, according to every relevant benchmark, than children raised in single-parent homes. I do not say this to criticise in any way single parents, who for the most part do an excellent job in what sometimes are extremely difficult circumstances, and I believe that they deserve our full support. Rather, I say it because we need to ensure that public policy does not make it more difficult for couples who want to marry to do so in the UK than in other developed OECD countries. If we do not make this change, “broken Britain” should come as no surprise to us.
The second reason is choice. In approaching choice, I am aware that some people find the idea that fiscal policy has anything to do with marriage ridiculous. They assert that people get married for love and they give the impression that any reference to fiscal consideration in the context of marriage is somehow crass and insensitive. These people, who usually in my experience are very well off, make the basic mistake of confusing two different decisions. As I said in last year’s debate, of course people do not fall in love for fiscal reasons. However, when they fall in love and decide that they want to be together, they face a choice: do they marry or cohabit? It is in making that decision that fiscal considerations are very real, particularly if you are on a low to modest income. Statistics demonstrate that 90% of young people aspire to marry, so why then is the marriage rate at an all-time low and the cohabitation rate at an all-time high? Clearly,
people have not stopped falling in love and deciding that they want to be together.
I do not want to suggest for a minute that increasing cohabitation is just, or even primarily, the result of fiscal policy—undoubtedly there are other significant cultural factors—but I suggest that fiscal policy is a contributory factor for the evident disconnect between the aspiration to marry and the level of marriages. The fact is that people in the UK fall in love and decide that they want to be together in a context where the option of marrying is more difficult than it is for most people living in the developed OECD world.
Bringing ourselves into line with international best practice and recognising marriage in the tax system will help to make it no more difficult for those who aspire to marry in the UK to do so than is the case for most OECD residents. Moreover, I contend that the case for recognising marriage in the tax system is even stronger today than it was in 2010. Analysis of the latest OECD figures carried out by CARE and presented in Taxation of Families 2010/11 reveals that a one-earner married couple with two children and an average wage now face a tax burden that is 52% greater than the OECD average, a significant increase on the 33% figure for 2010.
This deeply disturbing deterioration impels us to delay no longer the introduction of the transferable allowance. The Prime Minister, who has talked so much about supporting marriage, cannot allow a situation to develop in which the tax disincentives to marriage increase significantly under his premiership. He must ensure that, at least in terms of fiscal policy, it is no more difficult for couples to marry in the UK than it is across the OECD on average.
Before I conclude, I wish to touch on the extremely important subject of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the IT changes that will need to be implemented in order for the transferable allowance to be given effect. It has been suggested that it could take a year or more for HMRC to make the necessary changes. In the light of this, there are five key questions for the Minister.
First, has the Treasury asked HMRC to assess how long it will take to make the requisite IT changes to introduce the transferable allowance? Secondly, if the answer to the above question is yes, how long did HMRC estimate and, if the answer is no, will the Minister urgently ask them to make an estimate? Thirdly, has the Treasury instructed HMRC to start making the necessary IT changes to facilitate the introduction of the transferable allowance? Fourthly, if the answer to the third question is no, will he urgently ask HMRC to begin making the necessary IT changes? Fifthly, when do the Government intend to bring forward legislation to formally introduce the transferable allowance?
I look forward to the Minister’s reply. If he does not have all the information to hand today, I would be most grateful if he would write to me and place a copy of the letter in the House of Lords Library.
across all shades of party opinion knows that small business can provide extra employment and boost the economy, and that the proportion of GDP and employment it represents continues to grow.
The EIS has been a considerable success and raised some £12 billion of high-risk equity for small businesses. It was interesting that the French Government sent a delegation over to the UK to look at why the EIS had worked so much better in the UK than the French scheme had in France, even though, on the face of it, the French scheme looked to be more generous. I also make the point that equity is just as important as debt—small businesses cannot, and should not, view bank borrowing as a substitute for equity. As a buffer for survival, equity is absolutely necessary.
At this point, I declare an interest, which is duly in the register, as chairman of the EIS Association, the not-for-profit trade body representing the various professionals involved in promoting and creating EIS offerings. My colleagues from the EIS Association have had an extremely constructive dialogue with HMRC and I pay tribute to the good will and constructive actions of particular individuals in trying to address some of the issues that need addressing, which the Finance Bill does to some extent. I was extremely pleased that the Government listened to the proposals to widen the coverage of the EIS and deal with the follow-on situation of small companies that had survived and grown a bit but needed some more equity capital. It was a pity that the Government were obliged to delay getting EU state aid clearance, as I do not see that these sorts of measures are any of the business of the EU. I am very pleased that the Government did listen and have addressed that.
I am therefore a little disappointed in respect of two big areas in the Finance Bill. The first is the limiting of loss relief to £50,000, or 25% of annual income, which changes the risk-reward nature of EIS investment. In a way, the Government have given with one hand, by widening the parameters, but taken back with the other hand with that measure. Given that small company investment is extremely high-risk, what the loss is going to be with small companies that fail is a material consideration. I know there is some amelioration of that in that losses can be spread over two years for tax purposes, but I feel that this was slightly a political measure and not really thought through in terms of its impact. For all those who invested under EISs in the past on the basis of loss relief, it is also retrospective in that it is being changed after they took the decision to invest based on the then risk/reward parameters.
A minor point is that the list of qualifying investments has been looked at from the negative side but not from the positive side. I cannot see why nursing homes and hotels are not qualifying investments. As the record shows, neither is an area where people make instant profits and both are socially useful. There is a case for reviewing the rules on a positive side.
The second point is perhaps the most material. The EISA has had constructive discussions with the Treasury for some time on measures to stop what I think we and the Government have viewed as abuse of the EIS, where the basic objectives, which we all understand, are being rather used for tax schemes and getting
around the rules. Everybody in the industry broadly understands what those abuses are and is pretty constructive about dealing with them. This has led to the new rules in the Finance Bill that create Section 178A of the Income Tax Act 2007. It introduces new disqualifying arrangements which apply to VCTs and the new SEISs as well as EISs. These include test conditions A and B, and if either is met the arrangement is disqualified. I shall read condition A because I get very upset that the drafting of a law in this area can be so entirely opaque:
“Condition A … is that as a result of the money raised by the relevant issue being employed for the purpose of the relevant business activity, the whole or the majority of the amount raised is, in the course of the arrangements, paid to or for the benefit of a party or parties to the arrangements or a person or persons connected with such a party”.
I am afraid it is extremely opaque. I think I know what it is getting at: that where an EIS-qualifying company is to some extent fronting for a larger company that is underwriting its business risk, it is clearly not cricket. I wish that things such as that could be drafted in a way that is a little clearer and more straightforward.
The second condition, condition B, outlaws where a part of business venture, not otherwise qualifying, would qualify. For example, if, say, old people’s homes do not qualify, you separate out a restaurant in the old people’s home which would qualify. Candidly, I cannot particularly see the harm in that if it is employing people and providing a service. It would again be helpful if what the condition means were clear, but I question whether it is of much economic use.
The even bigger issue is that the new arrangements include a process for advanced assurance guidelines by HMRC. This is a form of pre-clearance. In the light of those very opaque conditions A and B, it is almost necessary in order for people to know whether an EIS proposition is okay. It is therefore helpful, but my first point is that it will require HMRC to be adequately resourced to provide and assess these pre-clearances. If not, there will be delays in the funding that small business badly needs.
I believe the initial draft of the Revenue’s guidance notes have, for some reason, been fairly widely circulated, which was not intended. As the notes stand, they are capable of being interpreted in an extremely unhelpful way. Most people know the issues that these guidelines are getting at but, on the face of it, the wording could unintentionally disqualify a range of businesses, especially developing, building, owning and operating solar, wind and other energy projects benefiting from ROCs. Typical characteristics of such investments are: that the majority of the investment comes from one or other EIS fund or VCT; where the business is a start-up; the customer servicing and maintenance function has to be outsourced initially because the business cannot afford to do it itself; and if there are any major engineering or other capital costs, they need to be outsourced to a third party until the business is large enough to be able to afford them. The guidelines include these four characteristics as disqualifying the business for an advanced clearance guideline under something called VCM21035. I cannot believe that it is the Government’s intention to disqualify, in particular, start-ups. It does not mean that these investments are automatically
disqualified for EIS relief, but they are disqualified for this new advanced clearance. Of course, the new advanced clearance will, in practice, become an effective prerequisite in that no one is going to invest in an EIS proposition unless it has an advanced clearance under the new arrangements. The guidelines do not say, but could usefully do so, that—notwithstanding the specific guidelines—if the promoters believe the business is not abusive they should explain when they apply for advanced clearance. I think that is particularly relevant to the point I just made about start-up companies in the solar industry.
I also understand that the objectives of most of the fairly extensive clauses in the guidance notes go quite a lot further than what is in the Bill, which I do not think is necessarily intended. The guidance would be much more practical and helpful if it gave illustrations of the things that it seeks to disqualify. As the guidance stands, it would be much more practical for EIS funds to invest in follow-on situations and to avoid start-up seed capital. Again, this is entirely at odds with the objective of the new SEISs.
I hope the guidance notes will be reviewed and refined. At present, they will cause too much uncertainty and lead to a reduction in the flow of EIS funds to perfectly reasonable propositions. The essence of the point is that VCM21035 sets out where HMRC will decline to give advance assurance. At present, as I have just said, this is well beyond the new disqualifying principles within the Act. It also gives HMRC too much discretion to pick and choose whether or not companies get advance clearance. I am sure it is not the Government’s intention to disqualify start-ups from being largely funded by VCTs and EIS funds, nor to disqualify companies which in their early stage need a certain amount of outsourcing.
Finally, another issue that delays the flow of EIS funding is MiFID. Advisers need to be ever more protective if they are to promote EISs to their clients. It is not just a question of their clients signing to say they are a sophisticated investor; the adviser needs to write a paper saying why he considers the client to be a suitable investor for something as high-risk as the EIS. The bottom line is that, other than the most sophisticated advisers, most give up and say, “Well, we’re really not attached to this area. It is too difficult and too risky”. To the extent to which we can have any flexibility under MiFID, it is necessary to make it easier for intermediaries and financial advisers to be able to promote EIS investments.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, probably expressed what we are all likely to feel about this debate. We have had in the House a series of economic debates and questions and many opportunities to consider the Budget and its ramifications over quite a considerable period. That may just account for tonight’s fairly limited attendance in consideration of the Finance Bill. Of course, we all recognise the limitations of this House in considering the Bill, but there is no doubt that in the context of the developing economic situation and the Government’s
actions over the past few months, it feels as though it has been with us for a very long time indeed. This is not, however, the Bill which the Chancellor introduced. The outstanding feature of this Finance Bill is that it was trailed from the Treasury before the speech was made; the kind of approach which back in 1946 caused a Chancellor to be dismissed for speaking out of turn. These days, of course, trailing things is looked upon as a high political art form, though a great deal of what was trailed then did not turn out to be reality.
We had not been very long into discussions on the Finance Bill before the Government began to exercise a dizzying series of U-turns, whether it was on hot food, static caravans, improvements to listed buildings or charitable donations. All were changes which the Government then dressed up as the result of consultation, when in fact the proposals in the Budget were repudiated by a Chancellor who was fast losing confidence in his own decision taking. The result is that we will have from the Minister a paean of praise to the wisdom of the Government for the way they have handled the economy, with ne’er a mention in his speech of where the resources are meant to come from to fill the gaps which these subsequent concessions have caused in the revenue. We thought many of these original measures were misconceived; the Government have merely spread consternation by their rethinking of the position. The other characteristic of all Treasury Ministers—and the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, enjoys his part in that role—is that they appear to address everything to deal with the nation in terms of the Finance Bill being concerned with business, taxation and how the country pays its way.
Those are important considerations. They ought to be a substantial part, and inevitably are, of every Budget. But where is the concern about the society that the Bill will impact upon? Where is the concern about social justice? Apart from the phrases about us being “all in this together”, where is the evidence? The Minister indicates that giving a substantial tax concession to millionaires—not mentioning, of course, that the Cabinet consists largely of millionaires—is merely a reflection of the fact that the tax does not raise too much. Of course, there is no consideration at all of the impact upon the nation of a Government asking it to take the deprivations that occur in this Budget: the loss of benefits and the onslaught on vulnerable people in our society. There is no consideration at all that giving a concession to millionaires creates a symbol of a totally unfair approach to government. Is it therefore not surprising that the Government are losing their credibility among the nation, as is clearly evidenced every time the Prime Minister loses control of his arguments at Question Time in the other place?
I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, says about taking low-paid people out of income tax. Of course that is to be welcomed. However, she must also recognise that the major priority enjoined by all those who are concerned about the state of British society—and a number of other western societies as well—is that some tackling was necessary during the years when we were in Government of the excessive degree of child poverty, which was a stain upon our society and measure of the unfairnesses which our society metes out. Children, after all, are not responsible
for the state they are in, but everybody recognises the crippling disadvantages of being born and trapped in poverty. The Government, of course, are ensuring that that trap becomes even more vicelike in its control through the significant reductions in benefits. We know what that means for children in poverty.
Of course, it may be that some concession was made to lower-paid workers, but it certainly was not made to pensioners. The Government have abandoned their commitment to the age-related allowance for pensioners in line with inflation, and introduced their granny tax.
We have argued that this Budget is so manifestly unfair and inappropriate that the unfairness is being felt throughout society. It is also utterly and totally ineffective. I do not have detailed questions to ask the noble Lord; that is just as well, as I hope that he would be able to restrain his winding-up speech to reasonable limits and he has a great deal to respond to from the noble Lord, Lord Flight—and, indeed, from the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont.
However, I add one caveat to the noble Lord, Lord Browne: we have got to be somewhat judicious in this House when we are commenting on and playing our part in making laws which apply to those who are a generation or two behind us. Their mores are different. That is not to say that we do not recognise that so many value marriage; that is why weddings take place with great panache all the time. I imagine that many noble Lords in this House enjoy, as I do myself, a situation where my marriage is reaching almost 50 years; so I am certainly not going to be against marriage. But I am counselling against giving advice to a generation which has got a different approach to the way in which it expresses its commitments between man and woman. We would all recognise that a decade or so ago expression particularly on the Conservative Benches of this House on issues of equality for homosexuals was totally different from the perspective with which the Conservative Party responds today. I am not so sure about its entire membership in this House but certainly its agreed policy as regards its Members of Parliament. I have slight anxiety about dictating to a younger generation what the incentives should be with regard to their social relationships.
I have one question for the Minister: what is his response to the International Monetary Fund’s announcement today that growth will be 0.6% lower than the Government and the OBR have forecast for this year and will be 0.6% lower next year? The Government are left with the prospect of 0.2% growth this year. What an emergence from a double-dip recession that represents. Even the following year, only 1.6% growth is forecast. Therefore, both years will be manifestly below the average for advanced countries of 1.9% growth.
We are falling further behind in terms of growth and there will be a reduction in our resources. That is why the Government are in such difficulty with regard to their Budget, and why there are such privations on the least well off in our society. Ordinary people are feeling the pinch. There was not a word from the Minister or a single word in this Finance Bill about anything to do with unemployment and scarcely anything to do with employment. One million young people are
unemployed. Is the Minister suggesting that they are responsible for that? Have the Government not got some responsibility for tackling those issues? I ask: what in this Bill relates to those issues? There is nothing. After all, if there had been anything, I am sure that the noble Lord would have referred to the issue but, of course, he did not.
We have a Finance Bill which partially reflects the total incompetence of this Government and their dizzying U-turns over the Budget proposals. The Budget is inherently and manifestly unfair, which leads to the nation rejecting and being critical of those who introduced it.
This recession was made in Downing Street. If the Chancellor concentrated rather less on his main bête noir—the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls—and a little more on the real economy, we might see a rather better approach to the crisis that this nation is in. It is absolutely clear that part of this is driven by the fundamental beliefs of the Chancellor and those who support him. They are using what is undoubtedly a crisis with regard to public finances to indulge in their commitment to create the smaller state—to reduce welfare and care for those in need. They did it in the 1930s and they are doing it in the second decade of the 21st century. It did not get us out of recession in the 1930s and will not now. The proof is already there. Meanwhile, it is the ordinary citizen of this country who pays the price.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, as I respond to this debate on the Finance Bill, I thank the dedicated band of noble Lords for contributing to this short and, what was until the last intervention, rather focused debate, before the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, went off in many different directions. This year’s Finance Bill follows an unprecedented degree of consultation and engagement, and implements many of the changes announced at the Budget. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that there were some 200 measures in the Budget and on three of them, after consultation, we made appropriate changes. Therefore, I think that his characterisation of the Budget-making process, and the changes since, is way off the mark.
First, I will address one or two of the specific points raised before returning to the bigger picture. I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Kramer for pointing out what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, seems not to recognise—that we are now engaged in the most progressive tax strategy of any Government in recent years. I completely agree with her. Not only is that the case but it is demonstrably the case. No previous Government have put distributional tables into the Budget document so that it is completely clear where the majority of the pain is falling, which is on those with the broadest shoulders in the top percentiles of the income distribution. I can assure my noble friend that as we carry on the progress on these many issues, we will make sure that we are very alive to loopholes. On stamp duty, for example, there are clearly questions, with possible ways of doing sub-sales avoidance and so on.
My noble friend mentions one offshore financial centre. I think that the agreement with Switzerland, which I referred to in my opening speech, shows that we will work tirelessly to take all appropriate action on that front. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, makes a powerful case in relation to marriage. I would not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, in rebutting that case. The coalition agreement commitment remains in place. We keep that commitment, as we do all taxes, under review. The noble Lord would not expect me to say any more this evening, but he has put on the record very clearly his feelings on this matter.
As to the IT systems of HMRC for transferable allowances, again it is an area of questioning that has been raised in another place. There is nothing I can usefully add. We do not tend to give a running commentary on HMRC operational matters. If there is anything more I can do to shed light on the specific questions that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, raises, of course I will write. However, my strong feeling is—as I suspect he realises—that I will not be able to give him anything more on that, but he makes his points very clearly.
My noble friend Lord Flight made some very technical but important points around EIS and VCT schemes in particular. He made the important point that some £12 billion of equity has been raised. These schemes have been extremely successful. As I outlined in my opening speech, we want to expand them. At one point my noble friend characterised them as giving with one hand and taking with the other. We do not see it like that. We have consulted extensively on detailed rules. Many industry groups contributed to the consultation and strongly supported the complete package of changes. However, my noble friend made his point very clearly. We keep these matters under continual review and if there are ways of making the guidance clearer and more helpful, I am sure that his thoughts will be taken on board. I will draw them to the attention of relevant officials. I also take the general point about clearer English, which is something of which we need to be reminded on a regular basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, launched a quite extraordinary attack—with which I agreed on a number of matters. My principal point of agreement was with the statement at the end of his speech that this is a recession made in Downing Street. I completely agree. The structural deficit that caused the recession to be as deep and severe as it is came from the overspending in the six years up to the financial crisis of 2008, when the previous Government diverted from the plans they had been left by my right honourable friend the previous Chancellor but three, Kenneth Clarke, who left the nation’s finances in a fine state. If the previous Government had carried on with his plans for a few years more, things would not be in the state that they are.
good progress—but the size of the task was bigger than in any other major economy.
Without rebutting the full litany and charge sheet—noble Lords would not thank me for keeping them much longer tonight—I absolutely rebut suggestions that we are insensitive to the societal and distributional effects of our measures. I explained the transparency with which we set out the effects of the Budget. It is those on the highest incomes who will pay most. The real results of what we are doing are the 800,000 new jobs that the private sector has created in the past two years. It is only by the private sector creating new jobs that we will be able to afford the better public services that the country needs and the lower taxes that we deserve. New jobs, falling unemployment and falling inflation are the things that the Government are concentrating on, and which the Budget continues to underpin.